Cam Stewart has been by all of it. A former NHLer who performed in an unforgiving period, Stewart counts 9 documented concussions, three of which rendered him unconscious, to his title. The quantity of undocumented concussions he sustained was a lot larger. Together with different accidents, Stewart’s profession was halted quite a few instances and all through the years he handled a variety of darkish days – a variety of darkish years, too.
Now as a participant agent with KO Sports activities, Stewart is hoping that his story of struggles each bodily and psychological can assist the subsequent technology of gamers attain their goals of changing into NHLers with out having to bottle up their emotions and anxieties. His message for the hockey world is evident:
“You’re the just one who is aware of how you’re feeling,” Stewart stated. “Psychological well being consciousness is getting there, however there may be nonetheless a stigma; making an attempt to be a tricky man or not wanting anybody to find out about it. Folks should be snug and know there are folks on the market who will assist and so they simply want to achieve out.”
Stewart thought he’d be a soccer participant when he was rising up in small-town Woolwich, Ontario, similar to his dad. The aim was to play on the College of Western Ontario in London, however an opportunity call-up to the Elmira Sugar Kings Jr. B workforce launched him into hockey’s stratosphere. Stewart scored 88 factors in 43 video games in his first yr and was named league MVP. The following morning, he obtained a name from legendary College of Michigan coach Crimson Berenson. The NHL’s Boston Bruins have been additionally , drafting Stewart 63rd general in 1990 after he scored 138 factors in his second yr with Elmira. Robust and gifted, he headed to Michigan and performed three seasons for the Wolverines earlier than signing with the Bruins, incomes the first-ever one-way contract for a participant coming straight out of faculty.
Issues began off nice for Stewart, enjoying on a line with Cam Neely and Adam Oates. However throughout a combat with Edmonton’s Ian Herbers, Stewart snapped his ringfinger in half. He missed months after having pins put into his finger and by no means lined up with Neely and Oates once more.
“That was the toughest a part of the NHL,” Stewart stated. “Looking for your home after which staying there.”
Despite the fact that he was drafted as a big-time scorer, Stewart was pigeonholed as a shift disturber and momentum-changer. Preventing was an effective way to maintain the coaches joyful but it surely did not at all times work out: Stewart laughs as he remembers the time he picked a combat with Florida heavyweight Paul Laus, a tilt he clearly ended up dropping. His Bruins teammates requested him why he would decide a combat with such a tricky man, to which Stewart replied that when he regarded on the stats, Laus had solely 60 PIM and it was three-quarters of the way in which by the season. What he failed to take a look at was Laus’ video games performed on the time: three.
Years later, Stewart and Laus have been roommates at coaching camp. Laus fell out of bed laughing when Stewart defined his mistake.
However the true starting of the top got here in 2001 at Minnesota Wild coaching camp. Stewart took a foul cross up the center in an exhibition sport and as he reached again to search for the puck, he took an opponent’s shoulder proper to the chin. He blacked out instantly. That night time, again at his house, Stewart handed out within the bathe and spent the subsequent 5 days in hospital. He credit Wild GM Doug Risebrough with at all times protecting him within the loop throughout his restoration, but it surely was a really onerous time.
“I attempted to bike and do another issues, however I’d get sick on a regular basis,” Stewart stated. “So as an alternative, I began strolling across the Mall of America, simply strolling the totally different ranges of the mall.”
His enjoying profession was completed, however he stayed in hockey as an assistant coach below Todd McLellan with Minnesota’s AHL workforce, the Houston Aeros (the place he had beforehand performed when the Aeros have been within the IHL). The workforce received the Calder Cup that 2003 season, then completed final the subsequent yr. Struggling together with his psychological well being, Stewart realized his head simply wasn’t in teaching. His outdated Michigan buddy Brian Wiseman got here to Houston and the pair obtained into actual property, flipping homes below the title Breakaway Ventures.
In each Minnesota and Houston, Stewart gravitated in the direction of youngsters’s hospitals, even establishing a Minnesota Wild room on the Youngsters’s Minnesota Hospital in St. Paul. Alongside the way in which, he met sufferers going by heartbreaking afflictions and solid robust friendships with various them. Calling out bingo numbers each Friday night time for these children put all the pieces in perspective for him.
Stewart would ultimately discover his method again behind the bench in Houston, till happenstance led him to Toronto, the place he would meet his spouse and take a job teaching the Jr. A St. Michael’s Buzzers (their finest participant? Reilly Smith). However the teaching gig did not actually pay, so Stewart obtained into the mouthguard enterprise, facilitating a deal between Chunk Tech mouthguards and Below Armour. For somebody nonetheless battling concussions, it was a product he was keen about and the security side allowed him to provide again to the sport he cherished.
“The chunk plate, on the again tooth, I’d put on in the course of the day,” he stated. “It was serving to my complications and I had no concept why. Nevertheless it stored the airway open. If you grind your tooth, it tells your physique that you simply’re pressured and cortisol begins popping out. This mouthguard stored the airway open and helped my complications.”
Stewart was doing nicely together with his job, till a automobile accident plunged him again right into a concussion fog. For the subsequent six or seven years, life was robust for Stewart; on high of his personal well being, he now had a spouse and children to consider and his well being made all the pieces troublesome.
“A few of these instances – it kills me while you weren’t in a position to be there, or reacted in a method you did not wish to react – they nonetheless bug me, which I am positive they do for each father or mother,” he stated. “However it’s important to study to not beat your self up on a regular basis. That is what I’d do; I might suppose it was all my fault. ‘Concussion Cam,’ I’d say to folks.”
That is when the subsequent section of Stewart’s life got here into focus.
When Kurt Overhardt was a younger agent looking for his place within the hockey world, he took a visit right down to Ann Arbor in hopes of beginning an advisory relationship with some Michigan children making noise for the Wolverines. The 25-year-old lawyer was in a full swimsuit and tie on a sweltering day when he met Stewart at Pizza Bob’s for a chat. Overhardt did not seal the deal that day, however years later Stewart employed him as his NHL agent and even after Stewart’s enjoying days have been over, Overhardt made positive to maintain tabs on him. Stewart had labored at improvement camps for Overhardt and when the Colorado-based agent hoped to make extra in-roads in talent-rich Ontario, he requested Stewart to begin watching video games and ultimately introduced him on as an agent.
“Cam was completely located to get into our enterprise,” Overhardt stated. “He had performed the sport on the highest stage, however extra importantly, his robust private character and thoughtfulness made him an ideal match for us.”
The primary participant Stewart tracked was Riley Damiani, now a Dallas Stars prospect and the 2021 AHL rookie of the yr with Texas. Different latest KO Sports activities purchasers embody Winnipeg Jets first-rounder Cole Perfetti, Edmonton Oilers prospect Ty Tullio and high 2022 draft prospect Shane Wright, the newest OHLer to obtain the Distinctive Standing designation to hitch the league a yr early (Wright went on to win OHL and CHL rookie of the yr honors with Kingston).
“The most important factor for us was the sort of folks they have been,” Perfetti stated. “In case you meet Cam and Kurt and everybody within the firm, they’re down-to-earth folks. They really look after me as an individual and do not see me as a greenback signal or a determine. It is a very family-like really feel.”
That is one thing echoed by the Wright household, who really met Stewart by the Perfettis.
“Proper off the hop he was very sincere and you would inform his coronary heart was in the suitable place,” stated Simon Wright, Shane’s dad. “You felt good having conversations with Cam.”
Even earlier than the household had formally signed on with Stewart and KO, the Wrights knew they might flip to him for assist. Years in the past, Wright broke his foot and with Simon within the U.S. at a soccer match with daughter Madeline, his mother known as Stewart.
“He is so calm and measured and he really does care,” stated Tanya Wright. “He actually has a relationship with everyone. And I do not suppose you might have that when you’re not inherently individual and listener.”
Stewart does not burn bridges and that goes a good distance in explaining why he has a knack for realizing everybody. When Wright sustained a hairline fracture in his foot at this yr’s world under-18 championship in Texas, Stewart known as a buddy – who simply occurred to be the coach for the Dallas Stars. The very subsequent day, a pair of shotblockers for Wright’s skates arrived on the rink, permitting Wright to get again into the match and assist Canada win gold.
However on high of all that, Stewart simply needs to ensure his younger purchasers are doing alright. Psychological well being is a precedence.
“It is large and has change into a much bigger, extra related subject and it is clearly very critical,” Perfetti stated. “I’ve undoubtedly had instances in hockey the place it has been irritating. This yr was my first time actually being alone and I had a little bit little bit of a dry spell, not enjoying the perfect early on and it was robust. Fortunately with Cam and the help group I’ve with KO Sports activities and my household, they have been actually useful. I speak to Cam a pair instances every week all year long, giving him updates and he was an outlet for me; I may say what I wanted to get off my chest and he was actually good for that.”
For the Wrights, Stewart may be that grownup voice their son Shane will hearken to when he does not essentially wish to hear one thing from his dad and mom (one thing everybody who has children can relate to).
“With all my purchasers, many of the interactions have been with the dad and mom, however now, as soon as the youngsters are snug, they wish to name you,” Stewart stated. “That is nice, as a result of I can see how they’re feeling. Let me know the way you feel on the finish of the week. I similar to that, it makes me really feel higher.”
It is one thing Overhardt is definitely on board with, as nicely.
“Everybody at all times focuses on the bodily improvement of a participant,” Overhardt stated. “There has by no means been a concentrate on psychological well being. It is a sophisticated difficulty and it is vital.”
Through the years, by all of the struggles, Stewart had a variety of assist. He tapped into the assets of the NHLPA and the NHL Alumni Affiliation. From Dr. Brian Shaw to various specialists in several medical fields, it is nearly bittersweet that Stewart is aware of a health care provider for each drawback.
“I am so used to ache in my physique, I do not even know when I’ve complications now,” he stated. “However you discover alternative ways, whether or not it is respiration methods or warmth, or you determine a variety of it’s coming out of your neck so I am going to a chiropractor each week, I do therapeutic massage, I do acupuncture.”
But when all that wrestle, each bodily and psychological, can assist the subsequent technology, it turns right into a constructive. Stewart’s message is evident: It is OK to not be OK and when you attain out for assist, there are individuals who will probably be there for you. Care for your self, so you may assist others. And it is a message he believes needs to be heard by everyone, not simply these within the hockey neighborhood.
It has been a protracted and winding journey to get so far, however the subsequent act in Stewart’s life is wanting like an ideal one.